Tuesday, October 24, 2023, marked exactly three years since gunmen attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Fiango Kumba and killed seven school children.
At least 13 others got injured, with seven in critical condition in the deadliest attack on education so far in the crisis-hit Anglophone Regions of Cameroon.
Local media and eyewitnesses recounted that a group of about nine armed men on board motorbikes stormed the private school in the populated neighborhood of Fiango at about 11am and opened fire on pupils in class.
Wailing, panic, and agony gripped Kumba and the entire nation as videos of bloodstained classrooms and children being ferried to hospitals flooded the social media.
Parents who saw their children leaving the house for school could not contain their grief upon hearing they were dead.
A father whose 11-year-old daughter was among those killed told Human Rights Watch: “I had woken up early that Saturday to go to the farm.
“My daughter told me, ‘Goodbye, Pa,’ and that’s the last time I saw her alive. When I was informed about the shooting, I ran to the school, and there I saw the body of my little girl on the ground, her head blown off. I was in shock.”
Before the attack, the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon had witnessed countless attacks on education, but none was this deadly.
Teachers, students and school infrastructures had come under intense attack from separatists.
But no one claimed responsibility for the Kumba school attack, which many comdemned as despicable and barbaric.
However, the government blamed it on Ambazonia separatists, who have been enforcing school boycotts in the Anglophone Regions as part of an agenda to create a breakaway state.
Both the Governor of the South West Region and the Senior Divisional Officer of Meme apportioned blamed on the local population for being tolerant towards separatists.
“How can Amba boys come to a community and kill students and people there sit and watch them?” questioned the Senior Divisional Officer, Chamberlain Ntou’ou Ndong.
“These people should be arrested.”
On the opposite end, separatist leaders claimed soldiers perpetrated the attack in order to tarnish the image of their revolution before the international community.
National, International Outcry
The attack triggered massive outcry and drew international attention to the crisis in the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon.
Four days after the incident, President Paul Biya decreed October 31, 2020 a national mourning day.
He said the flag was going to fly at half-mast nationwide “in memory of those killed in the attack”.
In Buea, the headquarters of the South West Region, traditional authorities poured libation at the Reunification monument, beseeching ancestors to stop the blood bath.
Women in the North West and South West Regions also took to the streets with peace plants to condemn the attack and call for peace.
On the international scene, the United Nations condemned the attack as barbaric and called on the Cameroon Government to protect access to education.
In a statement released on the day of the attack, the Minister of Communication, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, said the school did not benefit from State protection because authorities were unaware of its activities.
He said the school started the 2020–2021 school year “without the knowledge of competent administrative authorities”.
The embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France all condemned the attack and called for an end to hostilities.
However, the condemnations ended in words, and no concrete action was taken three years later to stop further violence.
On several occasions, the government announced that those who perpetrated the attack had been killed.
One year after the attack, the Buea military court sentenced to death four people alleged to have been part of the group that masterminded the attack to death.
They were among 12 people who were arrested in connection with the attack.
The court found them guilty of terrorism, secession, hostility against the fatherland, murder, possession of illegal arms and ammunition, and insurrection.
Four others, including two teachers, were sentenced to five months in prison and fined FCFA 50,000 for allegedly failing to report separatist threats.
However, defence lawyers and Human Rights Watch said the trial process was a sham.
The defence lawyers told HRW that the conviction was based on “untested hearsay testimony of absent witnesses”, noting that this “violates fair trial standards”.
Continued Attacks On Education
Since the Kumba school massacre, several cases of attacks on schools have been recorded in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
One of the most notable occurred on November 24, 2021, when armed attackers killed four students and a teacher at Government Bilingual Secondary School, Ekondo-Titi, in Ndian Division of the South West.
The assailants were said to have been on the premises of the school as early as 7:50 am before the students arrived at the school.
Armed men believed to have been separatists have also burned down several school buildings.
In February 2022, armed attackers set ablaze a classroom on the campus of Government Practising Primary School Group I in Buea.
On February 10, 2022, armed men who identified as Ambazonia fighters burnt down Queen of the Rosary College in Mamfe.
Students of the all-girls dormitory school were reportedly preparing to partake in Youth Day celebrations on February 11 and the attack was reportedly meant to deter them from doing so.
To date, attacks on education have continued unabated in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon.
The attacks have disrupted the education of over 700,000 students and teachers. At the start of the 2023–2024 school year on September 4, separatists imposed a two-week lockdown that disrupted classes in the English-speaking regions.
Mimi Mefo Info